I'm going through one of those phases where I'm finding it difficult to blog about anything, partly because I've overcommitted myself to too many projects, in my inimitable style, and deadlines are now looming. I don't think two long weekends away have helped much, either.
The latest deadline is for the script-writing workshop; it was last Friday but I've been given an 'extension' till the actual workshop. The 'assignment' was to write an outline for your film (that means a step-by-step breakdown, nothing vague), then six key scenes. It's very different from the process of writing a novel in which, as far as I can see, it seems less common to begin with a complete plan or even to know specifically what the novel is about for much of the first draft. But film is very consciously wedded to the three-act structure (even if it's rebelling against the idea of that structure), as are audience expectations.
In the last scriptwriting workshop I attended, which was with this gentleman, he suggested that film is about plot whereas the novel is about predicament: you can get away without plot in a novel, as long as there's an interesting predicament. The novel is carried by voice; shave away the novelist's voice and you may not be left with very much. Which is why novels by Elizabeth Jolley, Tim Winton, etc, don't necessarily make good film, because they're quite dependent on a writer's particular voice.
Prior to this workshop, I'd been thinking that visuals play the role in film that voice does in the novel. The exception is where voice over is used, although it still plays a much smaller part in establishing tone, mood, etc, than first person narration would in a novel or short story. I've found the whole discipline of scriptwriting good for prose-writing in general, as it forces you to interrogate both the content of individual scenes and the overall structure, to query why certain things are included and to seek the most economic and effective way of presenting your story.
On the other hand, I've found the emphasis on 'pre-planning' and projecting the script outline up to the 'third act' quite difficult. I'm ok up to the second-act turning point and then I don't know how to resolve things without getting silly (I'd say I had the same problem with novel-writing, insofar as I've tried any narrative development). One of the things I've found useful has been to workshop the outline with various friends, who've come up with suggestions for possible scenes or plot twists, often by referencing other films (I'm hoping to get away with references to other films, as I'm writing a spoof). They've also been quite incisive in their comments about what they think won't work. It's interesting, because some of these people aren't particularly literary or great film-buffs; I think it just goes to show how film-literate people are today and sophisticated in their expectations (even unconsciously) of film. I'm not sure this process would be as effective with a novel synopsis; I suspect that people are more film-literate than they are novel-literate, for starters. Perhaps there's always a sense that film is an object for public consumption rather than one for private satisfaction, so it lends itself more to a collaborative process.
The other thing about scriptwriting is that the technology is great. I've had a play with a demo model of Final Draft on the net, and have since ordered it through my school. Not only do these programs format everything, but they also have great meta-functions, like enabling you to see all your scenes listed on file cards on the screen (e.g. so you can move them around and delete them) and voicing the dialogue in a Stephen Hawking monotone (e.g. so you can get an idea if it works, know roughly how long the scene will take). It sounds even more exciting than blogging technology, where you're restricted to a linear scroll-through narrative, with some cross-referencing available.
Anyway, at the moment, what I've written seems pretty awful, like all first drafts, an attempt just to get words and story out onto the page to see if they work at that level. It's also...hmm, pretty out-there and a bit obscure (I have a problem with obscurity; what a shame I couldn't just content myself with writing about a Japanese tourist in a roll-over accident in the middle of the desert or something). I used to look forward to the 'workshopping' aspect of CW workshops (partly because I banked on getting a few laughs); now I kind of dread them. I'm expecting to get torrents of: 'but I don't know anyone like that/ who would say that?/ no one would do that', etc. (I don't know any hobbits nor have I marched on Mordor, but the Lord of the Rings still works.) These days, my rule of thumb is that at least 50 % of the feedback you get from other participants in a CW workshop has to be taken with a large grain of salt, that you have to sift through the dross for the couple of useful insights and develop the skin of a rhinocerous at the same time. However, like all CW participants, I enjoy the parasitic aspect of workshops, of leaching off a practitioner's knowledge and experience: go for the practitioner I say, not the class.
What I find truly mysterious about the script-writing workshop (ok, getting bitchy now) is that there are a couple of people who've said they don't watch much film, which seems even stranger in potential script-writers than the people who want to write prose but don't read any. Mysterious, because writing film involves a certain visual literacy along with an understanding of narrative and audience expectations, which is perhaps harder to tackle than 'telling your story' in prose (confession and expressivism being what I suspect a lot of the would-be prose-writers want).
After the last workshop, I felt fairly despondent about the whole scriptwriting process, largely because the economic aspects of film-making were made abundantly clear. Very simple scenes could turn out to be hugely expensive. It seems one needs a budget of at least $1M just to make a cheap-skate film: I need to find a sugar daddy, er co-parent, in a hurry, and I'm no good at greasing. MB also said that a lot of mediocre film scripts got funding while others that were good but never saw the light of day...which seems to tally with Mikhela's early impressions from her film production course. So, I dunno, perhaps I need to write a purposely bad script about a roll-over at Uluru or something if I want to get funding.
Elsewhere: Barista has an interesting post about whether the Australian film is a specific genre... From my attempts at scriptwriting already, it seems the temptation to write something self-consciously 'Australian' is huge: whether this is a good thing in terms of marketing or a bad thing in terms of cliche I'm not entirely sure. And Pavlov's Cat has started an agony aunt blog for creative writing queries (we should pay her for this stuff!).